BARCELONA • The crisis in Spanish tennis deepened as their Davis Cup team let slip a 2-0 lead in their tie with Russia to crash to a shock defeat in the second tier of the tournament yesterday.
The five-time winners, now captained by Conchita Martinez, were hoping to win a place in the World Group Play-off next September and return to the game's elite. Instead, they went down in the best- of-five matches in Vladivostok.
Spain missed star names such as Rafa Nadal and David Ferrer but they were still favourites in the Group 1 tie against a Russian team without a player in the ATP top 100. They started well with Tommy Robredo and Pablo Andujar winning their first two matches but then Evgeny Donskoy and Konstantin Kravchuk beat Marc Lopez and David Marrero in the doubles to trigger a slide.
Robredo lost to Donskoy and Andrey Rublev was too strong for Andujar in the final contest.
Spain were competing in Group 1 for the first time since 1996, after their shock defeat by Brazil last September. This loss puts their future in the second tier in jeopardy.
It has been a turbulent time for Spanish tennis with the appointment of Martinez earlier this month, replacing the unpopular Gala Leon, giving her little time to prepare for the match.
There was better news for 28-time winners Australia in Darwin yesterday.
Warhorse Lleyton Hewitt clinched a fighting comeback from 0-2 down to lift his team into the Davis Cup World Group semi-finals.
The 34-year-old, playing in a record 40th Cup tie, sealed a 3-2 victory over Kazakhstan with a gritty 7-6 (7-2), 6-2, 6-3 win in the fifth set over Aleksandr Nedovyesov.
It was the first time in 76 years that Australia had clawed back from 0-2 down to triumph in a Davis Cup tie.
"I love the back-against-the-wall situation and that's what we had after day one," Hewitt said.
"We rallied together and found a way to win.
"We didn't panic when we were 2-0 down. We're united for the one goal. It's been a lot of fun."
Hewitt had the chance to close out the tie after Sam Groth's 6-3, 7-6 (8-6), 4-6, 7-6 (8-6) win over Mikhail Kukushkin.
Australia's victory has set up a semi-final showdown against Britain, who beat France 3-1.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE